My husband and I are heading north to visit family and friends. This got me thinking about our family vacations when I was young. Each year my parents would pack the car and we’d head off exploring the US.
One year we headed from Michigan to California. We drove out the northern route and home the southern. My six-year-old brother, Darrin, and I, thirteen at the time, shared the back seat for three thousand miles. I had my pillow and transistor radio and as long as he stayed on his side things were fine. On the way out we made all the tourist stops: Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands of South Dakota, the Tetons of Wyoming, and Yellowstone. Problems began when Darrin decided his vacation souvenir would be a hat from each state we drove through. He started with ball caps, then a Smokey the Bear hat. After that came the cowboy hat, pistol, and holster. Now my parents car was good-sized, but the trunk was full, so things began to pile up and intrude into my space.
My brother also made himself the self-appointed public bathroom inspector. Each time we’d stop for gas, he’d run in to see if the facilities were clean enough for usage. Being only six and having no inhibitions, he’d loudly announce, “It’s dirty. We can’t pee here.” He also made me crazy by eating nothing but spaghetti the entire way to California, which he eventually proceeded to upchuck onto a paper plate while we were crossing some mountain chain where there was nowhere to pull off.
We arrived late one night at our scheduled stop. It was pitch dark and my dad left my mom and us in the car while he went to check in. All we knew was that the sign said “cozy cabins”. Well, my dad was gone for so long my mom began to get concerned. We finally saw a light coming toward us, and when this person got closer we could tell he was holding a lantern and — I’m not kidding — he looked like Lurch from the Adams Family. He actually said, “Follow me.” So, with trepidation, we did. We wove ourselves through the dark between cabins until arriving at our destination. The inside of the cabin was rustic and my brother and I thought the entire thing was pretty cool. Not my mother. I’ll never forget sitting down next to the bed and seeing there was writing on the wall. I proceeded to read aloud, “Suzy was ‘F’ed here eight times”. As I said, I was only thirteen and to be honest had no idea what ‘F’ meant. My mother did. She started screaming for me to stop reading the wall and go to sleep. I have to say, the next day we awoke to discover we were in Glacier National Park and it was beautiful.
The day before we were to arrive in California, all we could think was sunshine and warmth, not considering the fact we were arriving in Lake Tahoe. Needless to say we definitely looked like tourists in shorts while most were in ski clothes.
On the way home, while crossing the Mojavi desert, we saw both ends of a rainbow, which was pretty awesome. What wasn’t awesome was the heat. At the time our car didn’t have air conditioning. Car after car would pass us, their windows up while they sat in cool comfort. My dad told us to roll our windows up so people would also think we had air. I’m not kidding. This went on for miles until my mother told him to stop acting like an ass and roll the windows down. By the time we reached the location of the cliff dwelling Indians, I rebelled. It was one hundred degrees in the shade, and I refused to leave the air conditioned lobby and gift shop. When we got back in the car, to my chagrin, my brother was now the proud owner of an Indian headdress and tomahawk.